People like you are needed on this continent to take us to where we should be. Keep it up man!
The African Union (AU) has declared 2010 to be the “Year of Peace and Security” and is promising extra effort in resolving conflicts and in building a robust architecture for peace and security. AU’s efforts will be focused on Sudan, where it has a chance to crystallize political solutions to the crises in that troubled country.
Sudan holds considerable meaning for Africa. It is the largest country on the continent, bordering nine other countries. Sudan was among the last to succumb to colonial invasion—defeating both British and French armies in the course of its struggle—and was one of the first countries to win independence. Africans from all corners of the continent have migrated to Sudan in search of livelihoods, refuge, or for religious reasons. The Sudanese are famed for their hospitality to those fleeing misfortune and misgovernment.
The year 2010 is Sudan’s year of decision. This year, there will, without doubt, be enormous international attention on Sudan due to the upcoming elections. NGO campaigns have already been launched and the advocacy groups in the U.S. and Europe have drawn up their “to do” lists. All these focus on what the international community outside Africa can do for Sudan. Their paradigm has not shifted for decades. Their analysis sensationalizes crisis—especially humanitarian crisis—and their recommendations promote their own intervention. At best, they imply that African leaders and institutions are a hindrance to finding solutions for Africa’s problems and, at worst, they imply Africans’ inability to solve their own problems.
The record needs to be set straight. With regard to Sudan, Africans have been at the forefront, supporting the nation in its search for solutions. A notable instance was the 1972 Addis Ababa peace talks, which ended the first civil war. The framework for settling the second north-south war was also hammered out by African diplomatic engagement in Abuja in 1992 and then with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) process that developed the Declaration of Principles. IGAD also articulated the right of self-determination for southern Sudan. It was the Africans—Chad and the AU—that were the first to respond to the Darfur crisis with mediation and then with peacekeepers. Now it is the African Union Panel (last year focusing on Darfur, this year with an expanded mandate to cover the whole country) that is leading a political analysis of Sudan’s crisis and steps for its resolution.
One of the most adverse outcomes of the international advocacy campaign regarding Sudan is that it has raised and distorted the expectations of many ordinary Sudanese, and estranged them from the institutions and processes closer at hand that have a greater ability to address their crises. African initiatives are prematurely written off or second-guessed. African leaders are routinely dismissed as prisoners of their interests, as if European or American leaders only have higher humanitarian interests.
Over the last two years, some tension has surfaced between the African Union and some organizations in the international community. An illustration of this was the AU Peace and Security Council's (AU PSC) position on impunity for crimes. The AU PSC unanimously opposed impunity but also argued that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant against President Bashir needed to be considered in its political context. The UN Security Council (UNSC), however, did not even take time to debate the matter. When the UNSC is deliberating on an African issue, particularly in cases where Africans are put in the front line of enforcing UNSC decisions, then it is a matter of basic courtesy that unanimous decisions of the AU PSC be brought before the Council. But, for some, it often seems that African voices are inaudible; only when an issue reaches the pages of the New York Times does it command attention. Ultimately, the international power centers will learn that there are no real solutions to Africa’s problems outside of Africa.
Despite the efforts to undermine it, African involvement in Sudan has continued, and indeed has accelerated. The last year has seen the highest-profile African engagement in Sudan to date, with the AU High Level Panel under President Thabo Mbeki. The holistic political approach taken by the Panel has captured the attention of Sudanese from all walks of life. The African approach has zeroed in on the roots of the crisis: the inequities of power and wealth in Sudan. It has not ignored the symptoms of this political malaise, such as the humanitarian crises and human rights abuses, but it has not succumbed to the temptation of believing that addressing the symptoms will cure the disease. The African Union has also avoided the trap of second-guessing honest analysis due to fear of being criticized in the media or by activists with leverage in their home governments. In short, the African approach has been more honest and more strategic.
The African method has also pioneered a new consultative approach, seen best in the AU Panel on Darfur. Rather than developing templates from on high and directing them to follow , the AU Panel took the time to engage the Sudanese stakeholders in developing a realistic plan of action. At every stage, the Panel emphasized that solutions must come from Sudan, and must be implemented by the Sudanese. This is not a capitulation on dearly held principles, but instead the vital process of ensuring that solutions to Sudan’s crises are organically embedded in the Sudanese political process.
It’s not realistic to expect that Africa will resolve its many conflicts during this “Year of Peace and Security.” But the year 2010, the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, marks an important shift in the burden of responsibility for peace and security in Africa. The centre of gravity is shifting to the African Union and its emergent peace and security architecture. The basic institutions were set up with fanfare in 2003-2004. The aspirations far exceeded the grasp of the young AU Commission. But the AU has been gradually feeling its way towards a distinctively African method of conducting its business.
The institution's commitment to establish a continental peacekeeping force will take several more years to become a reality, but the current progress is quite promising: the AU is taking a decisive action to help bring stability in Madagascar, its troops are holding their ground in Somalia, and it is emerging as the pivotal international actor in Sudan. While the AU may lack financial and organizational capabilities, it certainly has the political analysis and acumen. It also has the staying power.
Abdul Mohammed is a peace activist based in East Africa. He works on a wide range of development issues including refugee resettlement, relief and emergency, and food security programs.